Many people believe that eco practices need to be big bold statements, a complete 180 on the things they currently do, which scares people off the idea. This is a shame, I am a big believer in taking small steps, making small changes and it adding up to a big difference.
Many people also believe that using eco friendly products is automatically more expensive. This is not true. And one area that addresses both of these points beautifully is the humble laundry, the humdrum, everyday, not exactly thrill a minute (unless a red sock got in with the whites) practice of washing ones clothes.
But actually, in eco terms it is quite exciting because EVERYBODY (or their Mum!) does it. Perhaps not everyday, but every few, or every week for most I would wager, and it is a chore. We wear clothes, we would usually like to re-use them (a good eco practice right there!) and so we wash them, not for the fun of it but the necessity. And for most its quite habitual. We find a washing powder, liquid or tabs that we like, a fabric softener that has a pleasing scent and that's what we use, because we like them, they do their job, so why change it?
Well, if we did all change our laundry products it would make a massive difference, to both ourselves and the environment at large. And, before you ask, yes eco friendly laundry products can be just as effective on dirt and cost effective too.
Lets look at some of the things in mainstream laundry products that in eco terms are less than ideal.
Phosphates are probably the one that most people would have heard of, they are there to help with removing dirt from clothes (also found in washing up liquids or dishwasher products) but when they get washed down the drain they can cause problems.
When they find their way into waterways they cause algal blooms, which is a big problem if you are living in or dependent upon that water as they can harm or even kill the organisms by depleting the oxygen in the water, blocking the light, and even
blocking the gills of fish. Whilst the quantity of phosphates or phosphonates has decreased in the last 30 years, there is still along way to go.
Just as bad, is how phosphates are obtained. They are often strip mined, which has lead to the environmental devastation of many areas it has been mined in, the small pacific island of Nauru which once a paradise has seen 80% of its surface strip mined, leaving it a barren waste land. But this is also a problem in Florida, Brazil, Africa and other countries.
Surfactants are pretty essential to washing. They break up the dirt and stains allowing them to be lifted off the clothes and washed away. LAS is the ingredient generally favoured by the industry (Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate), but the trouble with it is that it does not biodegrade without sufficient oxygen.
Bio or non-bio? Many people automatically reach for the Non-bio because they believe it to be kinder and safer on skin and so it is especially popular for those with small children or sensitive skin. The difference is the presence of enzymes, which are present in order to help break down stains that are protein or fat based. But, whilst they are naturally occurring they can cause skin irritation.
Many people turn to eco friendly laundry products simply because they have a reaction to mainstream brands, with the most common being contact dermatitis. But there are some ingredients that even though more eco friendly and natural can still cause irritations, so it is good to know that there are an array of options out there, not only for your skin, but for how much of a 'change' you are comfortable making or how much money you would like to spend/save.
So here are our favourites;
These are really good products. We have found them to be just as good as mainstream powders
for general soiling and are a great choice if you are looking for something that is much more eco- friendly but not too far our of your laundry comfort zone! 100% of their range is hypoallergenic, they are also 100% natural, plant based products, they are committed to sustainable practices and are credited with the 14001 standard and are vegan.
These are a complete replacement for laundry detergent, you just place it in the drum of your washing machine and let it work its magic. While a little quirkily different from regular detergents, they are independently laboratory proven to perform just as well as regular detergents. They are supported by Allergy UK and the National Eczema Society they are perfect for even the most sensitive of skin.
They also score big points for being economical, with their 720 egg, being good for 720 loads of washing!! That is 3 YEARS worth of washing for the average family and works out at under 3p per wash! They are also not tested on animals and have a very good environmental policy. And are vegan.
Our most quirky offering is the wonderful soap nut, which literally grows on trees! These amazing little shells are highly effective cleaners, you just pop half a dozen in an old sock or muslin bag with your clothes and let them do their thing! They are great for all fabrics and all temperatures. They are great for allergy sufferers or those with very sensitive skin. Contrary to what their name suggests they are actually a berry not a nut, and so nut allergy suffers need not fear. They contain Saponin a natural detergent, when placed in water the soap nuts absorb the water and release the saponins which act as a natural surfactant and lift dirt grime and oil from clothing. They are also very affordable, being inexpensive to buy and you can use the same 6 or so shells 6 or so times and then when they are all saponin-ed out you can compost them! Making them truly sustainable, non-toxic and waste free! An amazing eco option. Soap nuts can also be used for washing up, soap or shampoo!
So at whatever level you feel comfortable there is a way you can make your washing less impactful on the environment but better for your health too, if we all made a change to one of these alternatives (or any of the others out there) this would equate to not a big effort on our individual parts but a massive difference to our wider environment and perhaps even personal environment and purses!
In part 2 we are going to look at Fabric conditioners and why you perhaps do not need them at all!...